Trophies? Graham Questions, Wenger Answers
George Graham’s recent comments regarding Arsenal have struck a few chords. In highlighting the failure to win trophies since 2005s FA Cup, Wenger’s predecessor provided an immediate contrast between the pair:
I’ll give you trophies. We’ll take some criticism, but I will give you trophies
Graham did that to an extent but he lost his way, on and off the pitch.
Having delivered the title twice with teams that had the same capabilities as any that Wenger has fielded, he retreated into his shell, the team content to get the ball quickly to Wright and hope that he scored. They knew that once a lead was established, there was a very high percentage in their favour that the back four would not be breached. Except that really only held true until 1993 when an extraordinarily mundane side had their limitations exposed in the league, a position which would only be recovered following Wenger’s appointment.
Recent summers have seen the Frenchman criticised for not strengthening his squad to the level that people would like. In this respect, he and Graham were remarkably similar. Having romped to the title in 1991, Graham did not bring in many new faces immediately afterwards. Wenger does not operate in any different way. Perhaps this is a contributing factor in why neither has retained the league title. It may not be.
Both changed the style of the team’s play in ‘drought’ spells without trophies. It is hard to argue that Graham’s was not the most immediately effective, delivering 3 trophies in two seasons. The functional style of play was an immediate template for clubs such as Bolton; get the ball forward quickly, keep the defence tight and kick anything that moves. It was not nice to watch most of the time yet equally capable of providing rousing nights as any other manner of play.
Yet the period 1992 – 1994 was the most deeply dissatisfying in terms of spectacle and in truth, further away from winning the title than at any period in Wenger’s reign. Inexplicably, Graham changed the tactics of the 1991 side rather than refreshing personnel. Had he done that, his success would have been more entrenched and quite possibly, his transgression forgiven. Whatever the Board of the time may claim, I would asserverate that the paucity of the football was a significant contributing factor in his dismissal.
The inception of the Premier League meant that the sheen of the League Cup was beginning to dull; in truth the mid-1990s were the last time the competition truly held any sway. Perhaps that is a generational thing since the trip to the old Wembley held more aura. Even that was fading following the decision to hold FA Cup semi-finals at the stadium.
The FA Cup is treading the same path, one that is inexorable with the top sides in the country routinely using the competition to field youth and squad players. Wenger has made abundantly clear his priorities:
it depends on what you call trophies. Is it the Champions League, the Premier League, the League Cup? If you win the League Cup you cannot say you win trophies for me. Of course [finishing third is better than winning a domestic cup]. It’s much more difficult.
His position is clear; domestic cups are not important at all, not even as Graham pointed out, in breaking a squad’s trophy duck. It is an entirely continental position to take where domestic cups carry far less importance than the league. Truthfully, he would probably find backing from Ancelotti and Ferguson although both appear to lean towards Graham’s view than Wenger.
It is essentially sets out his manifesto. This squad is focussing on the league, not only winning it but finishing in the top three:
A season in the English league, when you fight with Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa, to finish in the top three is still not a disaster. It’s not enough because you want to win trophies. But it doesn’t say: ‘oh what a terrible season that was.’
We’ve just qualified from the group stage in the Champions League for the tenth consecutive season. That is, for me, three times as difficult as winning the League Cup five times. I know what’s difficult and what’s not difficult.
Few would argue with his theory that a top three finish is harder since it requires a level of consistency that cup competitions do not need. Yet winning a trophy is still that, especially for younger players. Had the Carling Cup been won then celebrations would ensue but not to anything like the same degree that would follow a Premier or Champions League, or even the FA Cup.
Graham questioned whether the Premier League could be won playing ‘total football‘, playing in the same manner as Barcelona. It is entirely feasible since they were consistent and that is the key element. The style of play is not irrelevant but allows a team to find that level, it works only if everyone knows their role in the side and what is expected of them. That applies to any style.
Wenger will have caused some rancour with his comments, almost inviting ‘style over substance’ debates. Those who put forward this as evidence will be ignoring a key plank of his comments, winning:
It’s very important that we win something, we’re here to win trophies
Some are more important than others. ’til Tomorrow.
Posted on February 6, 2010, in Arsenal, Champions League, FA Cup, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsene Wenger, Carling Cup, Champions League, FA Cup, Football, George Graham, Premier League, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink. 137 Comments.